England u20’s got off to a winning start on Monday as we beat Italy U20’s 64-5 in Cape Town. It was evident that we were a little rusty and we took a bit of time to get into our stride, but it was pleasing to get a game under our belts and crucially earn a bonus point victory. In such a tight pool it could well be a deciding factor and having already won the Six Nations championship on the back of our superior points difference, it really can’t be underestimated. We looked dangerous at times, particularly in the second half, and scored nine tries, so there are certainly reasons to be very positive moving forward.
To be fair, the scoreline doesn’t really do justice to the Italians, who are extremely competitive up front and have some dangerous broken field runners. We have only conceded two tries throughout the season and both have been scored by Italy, so they will be no pushovers in the tournament.
Meanwhile, on the other side of pool b the Irish defeated South Africa, setting today’s game up nicely. A few people have described the result as a shock, however in reality this isn’t the case. The Irish are a very strong outfit and had a great Six Nations tournament, going into the final game still chasing a grand slam. We were always fully aware of how tough this pool is and perhaps people don’t give Ireland the credit their due. There certainly won’t be any complacency in the camp in the build up to tday’s clash.
Two games of international rugby in a five days is very demanding, and as a result we have placed a massive emphasis on recovery. The boys are feeling fresh and a lot of credit for this has to go to the medical staff and our strength & conditioning coach, Neil Taylor. The lads have also been really professional, self-managing and doing whatever it takes to be as fresh as possible. The technology at our disposal is incredible, with each and every player being provided with everything from compression wear to devices which fire electric impulses through the body to contract muscles, increase circulation and flush toxins out of the system. Our nutritional requirements are carefully calculated and provided for and the physios and masseurs work long and hard into the night. In a tournament where the team which recovers best is likely to be successful, we are doing everything we can to be that team.
Fighting boredom is something that has been eluded to in various autobiographies of recent times and it is an interesting sub-plot to consider during the championship. The flip side of our professional approach is that everything is provided for us; camp life is simply a constant cycle of training and recovering. Now that we are in a period of intensive games there is only so much training you can do as staying fresh is pivotal, which leaves us sat about in a hotel. We are to stay ‘off-feet’ in the run up to a game which rules out exploring the city we are staying in extensively, and so boys can easily get bored, cooped up inside. To combat this, the management team have worked hard to provide a well equipped games room, and some of the lads have been quite creative; the crazy golf through the hotel and corridor cricket games have been particularly popular! Some of the lads have turned to card and video games to keep themselves entertained, whilst others prefer reading and even drawing to pass the time. A month is a long time to share such a confined space, but this squad is by far and away the most tightly knit squad I’ve been involved in. This is important off the field as well as on it, because if we’re happy to be in each other’s company, we’re not wallowing about bored and miserable. Enjoyment helps us to stay motivated, which in turn lends itself to performing together when it counts.
Today’s clash against Ireland is all set to be a cracker. We’ve rested up well and are looking sharp in training so hopefully we can make it two from two in pool b. You can watch the game on Sky Sports on today at 5.30pm and you can also follow me on twitter @dominicbarrow